Directed By Steve Balderson
2009—95 Minutes/Widescreen
DVD Provided by Ariztical Entertainment
Article written by Heather Drain

Women-in-Prison. I can already see it in your eyes. Breasty she-cats mud wrestling while a lascivious warden hangs out in his office hot tub, right? Well 2009's STUCK! is lacking in hot tubs and mud wrestling but makes up for it in spades with a character-actress lover's dream cast and a souped up, jazzy score.

This B&W retro-styled film with post-modern touches opens with Daisy (Starina Johnson), a fair-haired all-American girl whose life revolves around her mundane retail job and taking care of her home bound, ill mother (September Carter). Her life soon takes a huge downward spiral when her mother attempts to commit suicide via gun. After struggling with her mom, Daisy accidentally gut shoots her. Her mom miraculously manages to survive the wound but decides to finish the job with a self-inflicted bullet to the head. The whole sordid scene is witnessed by a nosy next door neighbor (THE Karen Black), who ends up calling the police. Hoopla over the “momma killer” and a damning testimony from the neighbor-lady nets Daisy a death sentence by hanging.

So sweet little Daisy gets locked up with the motley and ridiculously glamorous crew of she-wolves and eccentrics. There's Meme (Susan Traylor), the raspy voiced, blonde “black widow” who looks after the petite, pretty and pretty insane Princess (Jane Wiedlin, who must bathe in the blood of virgins). She's there for murdering her kids and acts like a distant cousin from any one of the characters from S.F. Brownrigg's Southern fried classic DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT. Then there's Esther (Mink Stole), a holy rolling, gun toting tax evader whose cell walls are littered with badly spelled words and pictures of Jesus. Last but certainly not least is Dutch (Pleasant Gehman), who looks like a Matisse meets SHE-MOB in the best possible way. Her crime was nixing a John permanently, and then finding out after the fact that he was a cop.

For a bunch of law breaking, hard bitten molls, they end up being exceptionally nice to Daisy, in stark contrast to the wicked Guard (Stacy Cunningham). The Guard, in typical WIP fashion, is more butch than, say, Sylvia Kristel in RED HEAT, but less butch than say, Charles Napier in everything. The noose awaits Daisy, while she makes a love connection with Dutch and her old neighbor becomes progressively more guilt obsessed with what she did or did not see.

STUCK! is an interesting film settled and unsettled in this limbo between 50's style exploitation films, 40's noir and serious art film. These are three categories that I love more than Christmas, though it is this weird middle that ends up being at times more of a hindrance than a help. There are some good, campy moments, including Dutch “accidentally” dropping the soap, just to ogle Daisy's sweet chassis. Scenes like that one play out campier and less sleazy, which is exactly why when things start to get ugly, like a particularly surreal gang rape involving guys in animal masks while a mute warden looks on via camera, it just doesn't fit with the rest of the movie. Ditto big time on the bleak ending. It's one of those things where part of me admires the sheer cajones to go for that kind of directorial choice. It always takes metaphorical testicular fortitude to have an unhappy ending in general and the principal of it does get my respect. Ultimately, though, it just doesn't mesh well with the rest of the film.

The upside is that it is an entertaining film and with a cast like this, there's no losing. I had wanted to see this film based on the sheer presence of Mink Stole and Pleasant Gehman alone. Stole needs no introduction and is fabulous in everything she acts in. She's one of those actresses who could have five minutes of screen time, doing nothing but making toast and bitching about shag carpet and those will be the five minutes you remember out of that entire film. This is no exception. Gehman is best known for being a punk rock renaissance woman, ranging from writer (including the excellent book “Escape from Houdini Mountain”) to being in the band the Screaming Sirens to currently being a world renowned belly dancer under the nom de plume Princess Fahrana. She's gum-snapping great here and is the atomic bombshell factor to the nth degree in STUCK!

The bulk of the acting weight lies firmly on Starina Johnson's shoulders, something she handles very well, especially for a young actress. She pulls off the contrasting sides of both her character and the film, which given the aforementioned tonal weirdness, is impressive. The rest of the cast are all great, ranging from Black's haunted, cheese-sliding-off-the-cracker neighbor to Traylor's sexy but tough as nails Meme. Cunningham is appropriately bitchy as the hollow-souled guard, though one wishes Wiedlin was given more to do since she's got charisma out the yin-yang.

The music is another big highlight. Courtesy of Rob Kleiner, it often sounds like a moody jazz soup that goes very well with the heavy B&W and noir leanings. And I would be totally remiss if I did not mention the wig situation going on with Karen Black. While it is a legion away from the Andrew Divoff monstrosity in the previously reviewed THE DEAD MATTER, it still looks like something out of the Donna Mills Feral collection. Black is a gorgeous woman and manages to halfway rock that wig but still I'm not sure if anyone really wants to be rocking the Donna Mills gone rogue look.

STUCK! is a well made, post-modern women-in-prison film with a perfect cult movie cast, a good visual look and a great sonic sound. Plus any film that references Charlotte Perkins Gilman's legendary short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” has got my vote of confidence.